Comprehensive Handbook to How to Run a Seder.
A step-by-step guide for the Seder night.
Seder literally means "order." The activities and mitzvot of Passover night were codified into a specific order of 15 steps.
While going through the 15 steps of the Seder, we actually perform seven different mitzvot.
- Demonstrating acts of freedom and aristocracy – e.g. sitting with a pillow cushion and reclining to our left as we eat and drink, and beginning the meal "with a dip."
- Drinking the Four Cups of wine
- Telling the Exodus story
- Eating matzah
- Eating Marror (bitter herbs)
- Eating the Afikomen (a piece of matzah for dessert as a reminder of the Passover offering)
- Saying Hallel (Psalms of praise).
Before we go through the actual Seder, let me share with you some tips.
We try to start the Seder after nightfall1, and since the Seder can be long, it is important to have everything ready ahead of time so that you can start immediately.
So what do you need?
The main part of the Seder is telling the story of the Exodus, so it is important to have a good translation of the Haggadah book so you can understand what you are saying.
Three matzahs should be placed on the table – either under or in front of the Seder plate. They should be covered and separated from each other by a napkin or cloth.
Make sure to have extra matzah for the special ‘sandwiches’ during the Seder.
For the Seder, it is ideal to use shmurah matzah. This type of matzah has been carefully guarded against any contact with water during the reaping, grinding, kneading and baking.
The Seder plate should be located to the right of the leader. The plate has six designated places for the following specific items:
Chazeret (a piece of romaine lettuce), a Karpas vegetable (options include potato, radish, celery), Beitzah (a hard-boiled egg), Zero'ah (a roasted bone – you can use a chicken wing), Charoset (a paste made from apples, nut and red wine), Marror (pure ground white horseradish).
The items on the Seder plate are placed in a specific order.2 Starting from the bottom, and going clockwise, the order is: Romaine lettuce, Karpas vegetable, hard-boiled egg, roasted bone, Charoset paste, and in the center is the horseradish.3
At the Seder, each person drinks four cups of wine.4
It is customary not to pour your own wine, but each pours for another – as if we are royalty.
It is best to use red wine, since this alludes to the blood spilled by Pharaoh, the blood as part of the Ten Plagues, and the blood the Jews put on their doorposts the nights before they left Egypt.
Someone who has difficulty drinking wine can use grape juice, but try to add a little wine.
Everyone should have their own wine cup5 and try to drink the entire cup of wine for each of the Four Cups. If it’s too difficult to drink the full cup, then drink at least a majority of the cup.
As an expression of freedom, we recline to the left side while drinking the Four Cups of wine.
Place a bowl of salt water on the table, near the Seder plate, as a reminder of the bitter tears.6
The 15 Steps of the Seder
As we mentioned, the Seder is organized into 15 steps. We will now go through the steps.
1. Kadesh – The Blessings
Sit down to recite Kiddush over a glass of wine. 7 This counts as the first of the Four Cups of wine. We say a special Shehechianu blessing8 which covers all the various mitzvot of Seder night.9
Recline to your left and drink if not the full cup then at least a majority of the cup of wine.
2. Urchatz – Wash Your Hands
Everyone washes their hands in the manner of washing for bread10, but WITHOUT a blessing. It is customary to bring the leader of the Seder a bowl and cup so he can wash at the table.
3. Karpas – The Opening “Dip”
Everyone should have a small piece of Karpas vegetable11 which they will dip into salt-water. Options include radish or potato. This symbolises spring, as Passover is the “holiday of spring”.
One should try not to eat too much12 (I know it’s difficult!).
Before eating, a blessing is recited13 and this blessing will also cover the Marror eaten later.
4. Yachatz – Break the Middle Matzah
The leader of the Seder breaks the middle matzah in two. The smaller piece is put back in between the other two matzahs. The larger piece is wrapped up and becomes the Afikomen to be eaten right at the end of the Seder.
Traditionally the children should try to "steal" the Afikomen from the leader and hide it, so that they will be encouraged to remain awake till the end of the Seder when the Afikomen is needed.
5. Maggid – Recounting the Exodus Story
Refer to your Haggadah book for a full list of what is customarily recited at this point. This is a list of titles to some of the popular highlights (refer to your Haggadah book for their full text).
Ha Lachma Anya – This is the Bread of Affliction
Uncover the three Matzahs and raise them for all to see whilst reciting the paragraph. Then cover the three Matzahs and pour the Second Cup of wine.
The Four Questions
It is customary for the youngest person at the Seder to recite the Four Questions.
Avadim Hayeenu – We Were Slaves
Uncover the three Matzahs before reciting this.
Vi-Hee She-Amda – God Redeemed Us
As an expression of joy, cover the three Matzahs and raise your wine glass while reciting this. Then uncover the three Matzahs and leave them uncovered for the duration of the Exodus story.
Dip your "pointer finger"14 in the wine and spill a total of 16 drops – three for "blood, fire and pillars of smoke," ten for the plagues, and another three for the three-word mnemonic “detzach, adash, be-achav”. Every time one of these are mentioned, spill a drop. This reminds us that our cup of joy is not complete because people had to die for our salvation.
After all the drops have been spilled, the cup should be refilled.
Dayeinu – It Would Have Been Enough
It is customary to sing the Dayeinu paragraph responsively.
Pesach, Matzah, Marror – The Pascal Offering, Matzah, Bitter Herbs
Recite the paragraphs corresponding to the Pascal offering, Matza and Marror (bitter herbs). When you reach the Matzah paragraph, lift the Matzahs as you recite it. When you reach the Marror paragraph, point to the Marror on the Seder plate as you say recite it.15
Lifikach and the Second Cup – Therefore We Give Praise
Cover the matzahs, raise the cup of wine, and recite the paragraphs of joy aloud and joyfully.
Keep the cup raised and make a blessing on the wine16, drink at least a majority of the cup without interruption and don't forget to recline to the left.17
6. Rachtza – Wash Your Hands
Wash your hands in the same manner as you did earlier at Urchatz, but this time recite the blessing usually recited when washing for bread.18
It is customary to bring the leader of the Seder a bowl and cup so he can wash at the table. From this point onward, we try not to talk until we have eaten the matzah.
If you can, try not to get involved in any side-talk until after you've finished eating the Marror (bitter herbs) and the Korech sandwich (steps 7-9).19
7. Motzi – Making the First Blessing on the Matzah
The leader lifts all three Matzos from the Seder plate and recites the Hamotzi blessing.20
8. Matzah – Making the Second Blessing and Eating the Matzah
Aside for the regular Hamotzi blessing on bread, we recite a second blessing over matzah.21
You may remember that on Shabbat we dip the Challah bread into salt. However, at the Seder we do not dip the matzah in salt, so that we can taste the matzah entirely by itself.
Make sure that everyone receives enough matzah. Each person should eat roughly two thirds of a square matzah, or one half of the hand-made round matzah.
Since there is probably not enough to give everyone the full amount from the leaders matzahs, give everyone at least a small piece of both these, supplementing it with other matzah.
Recline to your left and eat the Matzah without speaking and interruption.
9. Marror – Bitter Herbs
You can use either pure horseradish22 (not "red horseradish" which is actually a mixture of beets and horseradish), or Romaine lettuce or a mixture of both. If horseradish is used, take 2 heaped tablespoonsful,23 if Romaine lettuce is used, take a couple of large leaves.24
Dip the Marror into the Charoset as an "antiseptic" to dilute the harsh effects of the Marror.
Recite the blessing25, which also relates to the Marror that what will be eaten in the "Korech- sandwich" coming up next.
Eat the Marror without interruption. You DO NOT recline while eating the Marror.
10. Korech – Sandwich (of Matzah and Marror)
Take the bottom matzah (from the original three) and make a sandwich with the Marror.
For this use smaller amounts. Take one-third of a square matzah, or one-fourth of a round matzah,26 and one leaf of Romaine lettuce,27 or one heaped tablespoon of horseradish.28
Dip the sandwich into the Charoset. There is no blessing. Recline to your left and eat the sandwich without interruption.
Say the paragraph of "Remembrance of the Temple."29
11. Shulchan Orech – The Meal
What everyone has been waiting for, the festive Passover meal! We don’t serve roasted meat, to distinguish our meal from that of Temple times when the "Pascal lamb" was eaten roasted.
It is traditional to begin the meal with an egg, which symbolizes the Chagigah (Festival) offering which was offered in the Temple.
I know this may sound crazy, but for some families the Seder can last till 2 or 3 am. The actual meal should preferably end before midnight,30 in order to eat the Afikomen by that time.
Eat away but make sure to leave some room for our special Seder desert…
12. Tzafon – The Afikomen Desert
For desert, in case you haven’t had enough yet, we serve Matzah!
The leader should find the larger half of the Matzah that was broken in Step 4 and that the children hid and give everyone at least one small piece from it and make up the remainder from other matzahs.
Give each person roughly two thirds of a square matzah, or one half of a hand-made round matzah.31 If by this point it’s too difficult for you to eat that much, then eat half that amount.
The Afikomen is eaten while reclining to the left and without interruption.
This should be the last thing we eat tonight (aside for the remaining two cups of wine), unless you need a drink of water.
13. Barech – Bless ("Grace After Meal")
Fill each other’s wine glass for the Third Cup to drink at the conclusion of Grace.
The master of the house leads, but everyone lifts their wine glass and joins in reciting "Grace".
After grace, make a blessing on the Third Cup of wine32 and don't forget to recline to the left while drinking at least a majority of the cup.
Pour the Fourth Cup and also an extra cup for Elijah the Prophet.33
Open the front door to the house and say Shefoch Chamascha (found in your Haggadah book).
14. Hallel – Singing Praise
After closing the door, the Hallel prayers (praises of God) are recited while holding the Fourth Cup of Wine. Refer to your Haggadah book for the prayers.
At the conclusion of the Hallel prayers, the Fourth Cup of wine is drunk. Recite a blessing on the wine34 and don’t forget to recline to the left and drink at least a majority of the cup.
15. Nirtza – The Conclusion
Sing songs like “Chad Gadya” and “Who Kows One”. Refer to your Haggadah book for a full list. We finish the Seder with the declaration “Next Year in Jerusalem.”
1. The Torah describes how the Exodus began on the night of the 15th of Nissan. The Seder and all its Mitzvot are commemorating the Exodus and therefore should be conducted at night.
2. It is arranged to follow the order of the Haggadah, so that whatever you need next will be located closest to you. This is to avoid having to "skip over" any other item. The Talmud states a concept of Ain ma'avirin al hamitzvot – we try not to "pass over" any mitzvah that is in front of us.
3. If this does not match the plate you have, that is because opinions vary slightly.
4. Corresponding to the four expressions of freedom mentioned in the Torah (Exodus 6: 6-7).
5. A cup which holds a minimum of 98cc (3.3 oz.) – a Revi’it in Hebrew. When Passover falls on Shabbat, the minimum amount for the first cup is 4.42 oz.
6. The salt water should be prepared prior to the start of the holiday.
7. “Baruch ata Ad-onai Elo-heynu melech ha’olam, boray pri ha-gafen”.
Continue with the following passage and when the Seder falls on Friday night, include the words in parentheses:
“Blessed are you Hashem our God, King of the universe, Who has chosen us from all the nations, Who has exalted us above all tongues and sanctified us with His commandments. And you Hashem our God, have given us in love this festival of Matzot, the time of our freedom (in love) a holy gathering to remember the Exodus from Egypt. For You have chosen us and sanctified us above all nations, (and the Shabbat) and Your holy festivals (in love and favor), in gladness and joy have You granted us our heritage. Blessed are You Hashem, Who sanctifies (the Shabbat), the Jewish People (Israel) the festive seasons.”
8. “Baruch ata Ad-onai Elo-heynu melech ha-olam, she-hechiyanu, vekiyemanu, vehigiyanu, lazman hazeh.”
9. When the Seder falls on Saturday night, you should also make the Havdallah blessings as listed in the Haggadah, using the Yom Tov candles as your Havdallah candle.
10. Fill a large cup with water. Remove any rings from your fingers. Pour half the water – two times – over your right hand up to the wrist. Then pour the remaining water – two times – over your left hand up to the wrist.
11. Or any vegetable whose blessing is Borei Pri Ha-Adamah when eaten raw, but that is not useable for Marror.
12. One should eat less than 15 grams (the size of half an egg – a kezayit in Hebrew), to avoid having to say an after- blessing. If you inadvertently ate more than a kezayit, post facto you don’t need to say an after-blessing.
13. “Baruch ata Ad-onai, Elo-heynu melech ha’olam, borei pri ha-adamah.”
14. The pointer is the Etzba in Hebrew, which corresponds to the declaration in the Torah that the plagues were Etzba Elo-him ― "the finger of God" (Exodus 8:15).
15. However, you don’t lift the shank bone when reciting its corresponding paragraph, because the bone on the Seder plate is merely a reminder of the Pascal offering and we don’t want anyone thinking that this is the actual offering.
16. “Baruch ata Ad-onai Elo-heynu melech ha’olam, boray pri ha-gafen”.
Although we already made the blessing over wine on the First Cup, we make a new blessing here again because of the significant time-lapse between the two cups.
17. So important is this expression of freedom, that if you forget to recline while drinking, you have to drink again!
18. Fill a large cup with water. Remove any rings from your fingers. Pour half the water – two times – over your right hand up to the wrist. Then pour the remaining water – two times – over your left hand up to the wrist. Then say the following blessing: “Baruch ata Ad-onai, Elo-heynu melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu be-mitzvotav vetzivanu, al netilat yadayim” and dry your hands.
19. In this way, the blessings of "Motzi, Matzah and Marror" will also carry over to the sandwich.
20. “Baruch ata Ad-onai, Elo-heynu melech ha-olam, ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.”
21. “Baruch ata Ad-onai, Elo-heynu melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu be-mitzvotav vetzivanu, al achilat matzah.”
22. It should be ground up before the start of the holiday.
23. Approximately 1.1 compacted fluid ounce, which is an amount equivalent to half an egg (kezayit in Hebrew).
24. Measuring approximately eight-by-ten inches in total.
25. “Baruch ata Ad-onai, Elo-heynu melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu be-mitzvotav vetzivanu, al achilat maror.”
26. Approximately 23-25 cc.
27. Measuring approximately 3.6 by 2.7 inches.
28. Approximately 0.7 compacted fluid ounce.
29. “As a remembrance of the Temple we now do as Hillel did in the time of the Temple. He would combine the Passover offering, Matzah and Marror in a sandwich and eat them together. This is a fulfilment of what it says in the Torah: “They shall eat it (the Passover offering) with matzahs and bitter herbs.”
30. This exact time will vary depending on geographic location; check with your local rabbi.
31. Approximately 45-50 cc (the size of half an egg, a kezayit in Hebrew).
32. “Baruch ata Ad-onai Elo-heynu melech ha’olam, boray pri ha-gafen”.
33. Don’t be shocked if Elijah doesn’t actually drink it, it’s just to symbolise that he comes to every Seder. And don’t worry, it won’t go to waste, as it is customary to use the "leftovers" from Elijah's cup for Kiddush the next day.
34. “Baruch ata Ad-onai Elo-heynu melech ha’olam, boray pri ha-gafen”. After you finish drinking, recite the “al hagefen” after-blessing that is said on wine.